Photo: Claire Lower
Besides the act of properly dicing an onion, few food things have been written about as much as the roasted chicken. The reasons for this are obvious—it’s a homey, comforting source of protein that can be riffed on before it goes in the oven, and repurposed for the entire week after. It’s pretty easy to make a good roast chicken, but it’s also not incredibly difficult to make a mediocre one.
My personal philosophy on food and cooking is that there is no one right way to do anything, but rather a lot of great ways to cook and eat a lot of things, and the “right” one is the one that makes you the happiest. No dish embodies this quite like the roasted chicken. You can dry brine, wet brine, spatchcock or truss it, and you will (most likely) end up with a pretty delectable bird.
But there is one universal truth to preparing a chicken, and that is that it must be seasoned rather aggressively. Chicken—particularly the white meat portions—is a bit bland on its own, and it’s not enough to season the outside of the bird. There are, in fact, at least three entry points for flavoring: outside the skin, under the skin, and inside the cavity.
If you have the time, hit that thing with a dry brine, wet brine, or marinade, and let those do their work on the bird for 24 hours. If you are taking the dry road, make sure you sprinkle the salt and sugar mixture inside the cavity of the bird as well as all over the outside. If you’re spatchcocking, this is super easy, as all you have to do is flip and season. (In terms of dry brine ingredients, I keep it aggressively simple with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of bird, and 1 teaspoon of sugar per four pounds, but you can add other dried herbs and seasonings if you like).
Liquid brines and marinades—such as buttermilk or feta brine—have the advantage of being able to flow and fill the inside of the chicken cavity, but if you prefer a bird marinated with a thick, strained yogurt, make sure to pre-salt the chicken inside and out, and let it sit for half an hour before smearing it with soured dairy. Try to let these babies work their magic as long as you can—overnight is good, but a full 24 hours is better.
Once that’s done, turn your attention to the skin, and not just the outside. If you did a buttermilk, labneh, or feta brine, this is less crucial, as that bird will be infused with tangy, lactic goodness, and a simple sprinkling of salt on top of the skin is all you’ll need. But if you went with a dry brine, it is extremely worthwhile to shove some butter in-between the skin and meat. Plain, salted butter is fine, but compound butter is even better, particularly when you consider that skin will protect aromatic herbs and alliums from burning—it’s a built-in flavor shield! You can also place whole herb leaves in there, which looks pretty while imparting flavor, though a compound butter will distribute everything more evenly.
If you aren’t spatchcocking, it’s fun to use the cavity as yet another entry point for flavor. Woody herbs and juicy, halved lemons are never a bad choice. If you are spatchcocking, you can still place some herbs and citrus slices underneath the bird, on top of wire rack or (even better) bed of vegetables, which will flavor the chicken above and the vegetables underneath. Give the outside one more sprinkling of salt if you haven’t already (chicken skin can almost never be too salty), and roast until your breast meat is 155℉ and the thighs are 165℉. Let the bird rest for 10 minutes, carve, and enjoy.